A proposed gondola from the SkyTrain to SFU is being discussed
My office at SFU’s downtown campus is a hundred steps from SkyTrain (I’ve counted).
In less than an hour, I can be at the Production Way/University Millennium Line station for a transfer to the diesel bus which takes me up Burnaby Mountain to the main campus.
Can you guess which part of the trip I dread?
It may be the shortest leg, but the bus is crowded, noisy, polluting and jarring.
When I first heard about the idea of a gondola to replace that little bit of hell, I was an immediate fan – but skeptical. Would it be cost-effective, practical for students, faculty, staff and the residents of UniverCity – and not an unwarranted intrusion for those who lived below?
If there is a good business case – and if TransLink can mitigate privacy concerns for people who live below the proposed path – then the gondola should be built, and quickly.
If, on the other hand, a business case fails to demonstrate savings in transit users’ time, in taxpayers’ money and in increasingly hazardous carbon dioxide emissions, the project will likely get bumped down the long list of transit priorities – delayed indefinitely or lost forever in the crowded file of fabulous ideas that didn’t quite work out.
Either way, that’s the basis on which the SFU transit gondola should be judged: on its merits.
Early reviews of the gondola have returned positive findings. A gondola would reduce trip time by almost half over the current diesel bus service, encouraging more people on the mountain to use transit – and would free up 35,000 hours of bus time, enabling TransLink to reduce bus purchases and staff costs or improve service in other parts of the region.
Using hydroelectric energy, the gondola would save an estimated 1,870 tonnes a year in greenhouse gases, and would reduce the particulate pollution from diesel exhaust.
The construction footprint would be small and the environmental disruption would be a one-time event.
Once in place, the service would be clean, quiet and inexpensive to operate. It would also remove completely the bus line-ups that currently plague us all.
Given that gondola construction and operations will affect the immediate neighbourhood, TransLink has already initiated a public consultation, and in response to concerns has offered to alter the gondola design to prevent riders from looking down into houses, and, in some cases, to pay for changes on the ground as well.
The task now is to weigh the merits of the new service against the effects of location disruption.
There are many thousands of transit users on Burnaby Mountain (the SFU routes currently serve 25,000 individual trips per day) and thousands more potential riders who might get service when the gondola frees up buses.
There is potential savings for hundreds of thousands of TransLink taxpayers.
If residents’ concerns can be mitigated – if, on balance, the service proves a benefit to transit users, taxpayers and to everyone who breathes the air locally or is concerned about climate change globally, it would be a mistake to miss this clean, healthy, efficient, affordable and innovative opportunity.
And it would give this region an iconic form of transportation that would make this user’s trip to SFU something to look forward to.
- Post by Gord Price. This was originally published as a letter to the editor of the Burnaby Now. Price is Director of the City Program at Simon Fraser University. He also writes, teaches and consults on urban development and planning. He served six terms as Councillor for the City of Vancouver, from 1986 to 2002, as well as on the board of the Greater Vancouver Regional District (now Metro) and TransLink, the regional transportation authority.
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